N.Y. gov­er­nor drops il­le­gals’ li­censes plan af­ter pub­lic up­roar

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer on Nov. 14 scrapped his plan to is­sue driver’s li­censes to il­le­gal aliens, but Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Michael Chertoff said he ex­pects the gov­er­nor to still live up to his agree­ment to adopt Real ID stan­dards for reg­u­lar li­censes.

“You don’t need a stetho­scope to hear the heart­beat of the pub­lic on this,” Mr. Spitzer told re­porters in Wash­ing­ton in an­nounc­ing that he was re­treat­ing, just six weeks af­ter he an­nounced that New York would join the eight other states that al­ready is­sue li­censes to il­le­gal aliens. He blamed his fail­ure on Pres­i­dent Bush, say­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has failed to en­force the law and poi­soned the is­sue by also fail­ing to le­gal­ize il­le­gal aliens.

But even as Mr. Spitzer sought to bury the dam­ag­ing is­sue, Mr. Chertoff made sure that it won’t go away. He in­sisted that the gov­er­nor live up to the agree­ment that they signed last month to make all New York driver’s li­censes meet the stan­dards of the 2005 Real ID Act, which in­clude stricter iden­tity checks and coun­ter­feit-proof mea­sures.

“We ob­vi­ously never agreed with the idea of giv­ing il­le­gals driver’s li­censes, and so we wel­come New York’s de­ci­sion to aban­don mov­ing for­ward on that,” he told The Wash­ing­ton Times in a tele­phone in­ter­view from Lon­don. “As far as Real ID, we were pleased New York signed the agree­ment to move for­ward with that. The agree­ment is still in force.”

Asked whether that meant he ex­pects Mr Spitzer to stick to the agree­ment, he said: “Ab­so­lutely.”

Mr. Spitzer’s move was an at­tempt to stop his po­lit­i­cal bleed­ing, but the dam­age has al­ready been done. A Siena Re­search In­sti­tute poll re­leased last week found only 25 per­cent of New York vot­ers say they would re-elect him now, just a year af­ter he won elec­tion.

And the col­lat­eral dam­age has hit oth­ers, in­clud­ing Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, who waf­fled on the is­sue for two weeks be­fore fi­nally tak­ing a clear stand in op­po­si­tion to li­censes for il­le­gal aliens on Nov. 14.

“As pres­i­dent, I will not sup­port driver’s li­censes for un­doc­u­mented peo­ple and will press for com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form that deals with all of the is­sues around il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, in­clud­ing border se­cu­rity and fix­ing our bro­ken sys­tem,” she said.

Fel­low Demo­crat and pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Sen. Christo­pher J. Dodd pounced on that state­ment, with his cam­paign call­ing it “flipflop­ping cubed.”

Mr. Dodd op­poses the li­cense pro­posal; while an­other can­di­date, Sen. Barack Obama, said he sup­ported the con­cept. For­mer Sen. John Ed­wards ap­pears to be op­posed.

Nei­ther Mr. Ed­wards’ nor Mr. Obama’s cam­paigns re­turned calls.

Repub­li­cans vowed not to drop the is­sue, and House Repub­li­cans have in­tro­duced a bill to crack down on the eight re­main­ing states that still is­sue li­censes or of­fi­cial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion to il­le­gal aliens.

“Sen­a­tor Clin­ton may not be able to ex­plain her po­si­tion on this, but the tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who ex­pressed out­rage over this pro­posal were abun­dantly clear: Re­ward­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants with driver’s li­censes is wrong. It de­fies com- mon sense, and they will not stand for it,” said House Mi­nor­ity Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can.

Mr. Spitzer an­nounced that he was back­ing off his plan in Wash­ing­ton, out­side of the Capi­tol, af­ter meet­ing with New York’s Demo­cratic con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion.

Many of those Democrats had urged him to shelve the plan two weeks ago, which may have been the fi­nal sig­nal for him to re­treat. On Nov. 14, they praised Mr. Spitzer for try­ing.

“This might not have been the ex­act right plan, but the gov­er­nor is onto some­thing, and that is that we have to re­ally be at­ten­tive and try to solve this prob­lem,” said Rep. Gary L. Ack­er­man, New York Demo­crat.

When Mr. Spitzer an­nounced his plan in Septem­ber, he drew praise from im­mi­grant rights groups who said they had fi­nally found some­one will­ing to lead on an un­pop­u­lar po­si­tion. But pub­lic op­po­si­tion was ap­par­ent from the start, and Mr. Spitzer ne­go­ti­ated with Mr. Chertoff to try to gain fed­eral sup­port and sal­vage his plan.

In­stead, he lost sup­port from the im­mi­grant rights groups, who say Real ID will re­sult in a loss of civil lib­er­ties and dis­crim­i­na­tion against im­mi­grants. They said Mr. Spitzer’s agree­ment re­versed the mo­men­tum, which they said had been run­ning against Real ID, with sev­eral states an­nounc­ing they would opt out.

On Nov. 14, those groups said they ex­pect Mr. Spitzer to now drop his plan for Real ID-com­pli­ant li­censes.

“The sil­ver lin­ing here is that the gov­er­nor is also back­ing off on adopt­ing fed­eral Real ID stan­dards, which pose a se­ri­ous threat to Amer­i­cans’ civil lib­er­ties,” said ChungWha Hong, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the New York Im­mi­gra­tion Coali­tion who also crit­i­cized Mr. Spitzer for a “lost op­por­tu­nity” to take leader- ship on the im­mi­gra­tion is­sue.

The agree­ment can be ter­mi­nated by ei­ther party. A New York gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity, said that af­ter be­ing burned by the back­lash on li­censes, they are tak­ing a step back to eval­u­ate where they stand with Real ID.

“We take this fed­eral man­date very se­ri­ously, but this process has shown that we must have a real dis­cus­sion about this is­sue,” the of­fi­cial said. “The Leg­is­la­ture and other stake­hold­ers will have to be heard on this mat­ter.”

The of­fi­cial said they are con­vinced that their ex­ist­ing li­censes are al­ready se­cure “be­cause we have been told that we will al­ready be one of sev­eral states that are close to meet­ing fed­eral re­quire­ments when they fi­nally come out.”

The of­fi­cial also said Mr. Spitzer will pro­ceed with an en­hanced li­cense, which would meet the re­quire­ments for valid pass­port­like iden­ti­fi­ca­tion for over­seas trav­el­ers.

In their Oc­to­ber agree­ment, Mr. Spitzer com­mit­ted to is­su­ing three types of li­censes: the en­hanced one, which would al­low cross-border travel; the one for il­le­gal aliens, which would have been marked as un­us­able for fed­eral pur­poses; and the reg­u­lar li­cense, which would have been avail­able only to those in the coun­try legally and would have met the new se­cu­rity re­quire­ments of Real ID.

Mr. Chertoff said that Real ID re­mains alive and that its op­po­nents are en­gaged in “delu­sional think­ing” by claim­ing it is dead. He said the bur­den is on op­po­nents to ex­plain why more se­cure li­censes is a bad thing.

“There is no con­sti­tu­tional right to pre­tend to be some­body else; there is no con­sti­tu­tional right to coun­ter­feit li­censes,” he said.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Hear­ing the ‘heart­beat’: The fed­eral gov­ern­ment still ex­pects Gov. Eliot Spitzer to make N.Y. driver’s li­censes meet Real ID stan­dards.

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